Sunday, December 18, 2005

Yellow Elephants and Just War Theory

Here's what, a free, non-profit, critically annotated aid to philosophical studies of warfare, owned and maintained by Mark Rigstad, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Oakland University, says: [scroll down by date]

10/26/05: OYE Question: "Is a war a Just War if its strongest supporters, who are eligible to serve in the military and fight the war, nevertheless choose not to? In other words, can a war be a Just War if its supporters insist that "other people" do the actual fighting?"

Response: I think the problem of "dirty hands" is made worse when those who would justify the dirty work get others to do it for them. I'd say this is primarily a problem of personal ethics (emphasis added) . But off the top of my head I can think of a couple of ways in which just war theorists might argue that it diminishes the justifiability of a war to fight it largely by means of troops who do not [OYE addition: necessarily] support it.

First, employing soldiers who believe in their mission is especially important for morale. Morale is an very important strategic resource and basis for success, as even Clausewitz, the consummate realist, acknowledged. Many theorists, from Augustine forward, have claimed that the prospect of success is a requirement of justice. Hence, lacking soldiers who believe in the war might be thought to diminish the justice of the war insofar as it reduces the prospects for success. I think this is a weak argument in part because I don't think the criterion of success applies across the board. Applying it across the board would lead us to condemn as unjust the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising, for example, which are widely considered to have been military failures. Yet, I would say these are paradigm cases of just warfare. So I take a very restrictive view of the principle of success; and I would not argue that fighting with unenthusiastic troops is unjust for this reason.

A better argument for the diminished justifiability of fighting by means of unenthusiastic or dissenting troops would focus on the ethical condition of consent within the ranks. Enlisted or career soldiers who end up fighting in wars they do not [OYE addition: necessarily] ethically or politically support suffer a diminution of freedom. The problem is not that they are thereby reduced to mere mercenaries. I have heard people make that argument, but it is misguided inasmuch as the services of mercenaries are available on an open market, whereas most dissenting soldiers remain bound to the commands of their governments. Rather, the problem is that soldiers who fight only because they are subject to those commands are less free than soldiers who also fight from their own independent sense of what is ethically right, good or necessary. There is a heavy burden of ethical justification on those who would put troops in harms way, and that burden is not lessened, but is rather increased if those troops also have to overcome the pangs of uneasy conscience.

OYE Comment: Our country is blessed with a motivated, professional military. Unfortunately, now our military needs more and better-qualified recruits. That's where the "personal ethics" in the first paragraph comes in. OYE salutes all American military personnel in Iraq, who are following orders even if they may not necessarily personally support the war, because we believe in them and their mission. That's why we in OYE are focusing on the national leadership responsibility of the future leaders of our governing party to set a good example for the rest of us. End OYE comment.


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